In April of this year, accompanied by Russell Darnley OAM, I was privileged to attend the International Conference on the Parthenon Sculptures, by invitation of the President of Hellas HE Prokopios Pavlopoulos.
It was a great honour, not only to speak at this conference but also to be elected as the Vice Chair of the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures, (IARPS) following the conference.
As we approach the 10th anniversary of the opening of the new Acropolis Museum, it is an appropriate time to review how far we have come in campaigning for the return of the Parthenon Marbles.
When I established the IOC-A-RPM in 1981, it was the first group outside Greece to campaign for their return. Back then the British used argued that there was no place to display all of the Parthenon Marbles in Athens. This is an argument they can no longer use.
I remember the Greek Minister for Culture, Melina Mercouri, very well. She helped begin the modern movement for return. I met with her when she came to Australia in March 1983, and she encouraged me to do whatever I could to support the new British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles (BCRPM).
She really raised the profile of this campaign and I will never forget her. We can never thank her enough.
Over the last 43 years, I’ve carried out an on-going program of talks and lecture all over the world, for community groups, schools, universities, conferences and many more.
As readers of this blog will know, we have both directly organised, and assisted in the organisation, of three international conferences on the Parthenon Marbles over the last seven years (2012, 2013 and 2015).
The work ahead
There is still much work ahead of us, and there is no single or simple strategy for securing the return of the Parthenon Marbles.
Sometimes people suggest the way forward is taking the United Kingdom government to court. Our view is that this is a dead end, with slim chances of success. Litigation has also been rejected by Greek governments of all political persuasion.
I have spoken with three Greek Ministers for Culture, from three different political parties. They all gave me the same answer, Greece is not interested in going to court only in seeking return diplomatically, politically and through UNESCO. We support Greece’s position. If the strategy changes, we will continue to support them.
Greece has already achieved much diplomatically. Every three years the UN General Assembly adopts a Resolution entitled ‘Return or Restitution of Cultural Property to the countries of origin’. It is introduced by Greece and is an important tool in Greece’s Cultural Diplomacy. The Resolution encompasses restitution of the Parthenon Sculptures. It was last adopted on December 13th, 2018.
UNESCO is another important area of Greece’s cultural diplomacy. Parthenon Sculptures are an important focus of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in case of Illicit Appropriation (ICPRCP). In May 2018, the ICPRCP called upon Greece and the UK to reach a settlement of this long-standing issue, taking into account its historical, cultural, legal and ethical dimensions, while recalling that the Acropolis of Athens is an emblematic monument of outstanding universal value, inscribed in the World Heritage List.
When we consider the diplomatic and political possibilities there are many. Educating public opinion is key. Knowledge of the issue has already led to a huge shift in world opinion and now sees a majority of people in many countries, including the UK, favouring return.
Support for return is increasingly strong and creative, amongst the so-called millennials.
The Parthenon sculptures that have been held in this room, right here, where time has frozen for 200 years, these artefacts cannot be fully appreciated in this situation. How can they, when they’ve been decapitated, in bits and pieces all over the world? There is an urgent need for this monument to be reunified…this is not a Greek matter, it’s a matter for the world, it’s a matter for humanity.
inside the British Museum. Petros is part of a new wave of campaigners calling for the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles. We applaud this initiative. It is the first of many.
Following on from this, we have been cooperating with the BCRPM to support singer-songwriter Héllena Micy who will be releasing the song The Parthenon Marbles (bring them back), to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the opening of the new Acropolis Museum, on June 20.
There is great scope for creative use of the arts in the campaign as Héllena’s work reveals.